i've heard many people, over the course of my life, refer to méxico as the land of mañana. now, while time undoubtedly takes on an entirely different meaning here, i would say that méxico could be more accurately described as the land of al rato, al ratito, or especially ahorita.
patricio and our friend pedro still derive a healthy amount of amusement out of my need to be punctual. to me, it's a matter of respect and personal integrity, a demonstration of sticking to my word and of honoring the other person's request. even with the gamble that is new york traffic and subway schedules, i somehow managed to make it on time, most of the time, as did everyone else. while p and p understand exactly where i'm coming from--even recognizing it's virtues--they're still persevering in their attempts to inculcate in me an alternate way of thinking about time. with exceptions to the rule, namely court dates, visa issues and the like, the time continuum is all about generality and flexibility. but how does a culture communicate that flexibility if language tends to be definitive and, therefore, restrictive or inflexible? the answer lies in ambiguous, indefinite terminology. this is why i think méxico is not really the land of mañana, because "tomorrow" is too dangerously specific.
enter the beautifully slippery terms i mentioned above. the first two can be translated to something like "in a while" and "in a little while," but they allow the speaker a lot more freedom and temporal elbow room than the loose english equivalents. patricio can kiss me goodbye at eight in the morning, tell me we'll see each other al ratito, and not be contradicting himself if he arrives back home after eight in the evening.
the word that fascinates me most, though, is ahorita, which can mean "in a little bit," "now," "whenever," or even "just a while ago." i think of it as the time-traveling term, effortlessly encompassing past, present and future tenses. it almost manages to take time out of the traditionally linear perspective. almost.
but not quite, at least for me. i'm giving the college try every day, chipping away at my punctual rigidity, trying to tap into a more fluid and casual relationship with time. there are still moments, however, when i really, really want ahorita to be in half an hour or less, or al rato to be before the evening ends. perhaps i'll always maintain a preference for the punctual, but i also harbor the fantasy of making a huge leap in the direction of assimilation: waking up one day and thinking, "ahorita we'll get ready for brunch with gabriel garcía márquez," and really mean it.